Updated: Dec. 8, 2005, 9:07 AM ET

Here's how West will finish . . .

By Greg Anthony
ESPN Insider

The Western Conference has been an 800-pound gorilla, ruling the NBA in recent years. But now we've seen a reversal. I don't think any team from the West, other than the Spurs, has a chance to win it all. The next two or maybe three teams that could win it after the Spurs come from the East. Here's how I see the West seeding come playoff time:

1. Spurs. I've talked about Detroit having the best frontcourt and backcourt, but the Spurs have the best trio with Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the game.

2. Suns. It's a tribute to the team that it is playing as well as it is right now, without Amare Stoudemire. Mike D'Antoni imposed his philosophy and style on the league. His formula's working again this year. Boris Diaw and James Jones have come in and boosted them on the perimeter.

3. Nuggets. Marcus Camby's health and Carmelo Anthony's improvement will determine to what degree Denver will be a factor in playoffs. Anthony simply needs to go to another level offensively and defensively. Denver gets this high seed by virtue of winning the Northwest.

4. Mavericks. You still have to worry about their leadership on the court, and that's going to be controlled by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. A full year under Avery Johnson has helped develop their defensive disposition. Josh Howard has given them some good versatility.

5. Grizzlies. Eddie Jones has had a huge impact, especially on the defensive end. And he's given them a good second scoring option after Pau Gasol. I think they got great point play from Earl Watson and Jason Williams the last couple of years, but it's been even better with Bobby Jackson and Damon Stoudamire.

6. Sonics. They're obviously making the adjustment under coach Bob Weiss. Luke Ridnour and Ray Allen are keys. Last year was big for the team's confidence. I think they'll have enough for the playoffs.

7. Clippers. In the playoffs. The Clippers. It's hard for me to mouth those words. But I do like their coach, Mike Dunleavy, and the team's got a high basketball IQ with Elton Brand and Sam Cassell. Their mix of talent is very good. But will Sam be able to play at this level the entire season?

8. Lakers. I think they have too great a coach and too great a player in Kobe Bryant to not figure it out. Kobe is going to have to learn how to be a winner as the best player on his team. He's never had to do that before.

Bubble teams

Warriors. This team has always had injuries. And I can't remember the last time Baron Davis played a full season.

Rockets. Yao hasn't gotten that much better. He just hasn't been that dominant player that people have labeled him. And the moves in offseason were not that good.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: November 28 | 29 | 30 | December 1 | 2 | 3-4 | 5 | 6

Uncovering Arenas
There's no hiding from the accomplishments of Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who played 49 minutes, scored 37 points and dished nine assists in Washington's 119-111 OT win over Raptors. It was his sixth game of more than 30 points this year.

Dime Mailbag: Eastern Ranking Reactions

In regards to Greg Anthony's rankings of the Eastern Conference, I take exception with his ranking of the Wizards. He puts the Bulls at 6th and mentions the experience they got in last year's playoffs, but the Wiz have far better personnel and got past the Bulls last year. The Wiz are definitely going through a rough stretch, but when they've been clicking this year, they've been amazing. I think that there will be a few differences in Greg's standings and the actual standings at the end of the year.
-- Mike (San Diego)

Predicting all five teams from the Central Division to make the playoffs proves it -- this is the best division in basketball. Detroit is the best team in basketball and Indiana, Chicago, Cleveland, and even Milwaukee are all playing good basketball to this point. The only question mark is how badly these teams will beat up on each other during the year.
-- Steve (Grand Rapids)

C'mon Greg! The Nets and Bulls ahead of the Bucks?! The Bucks have great depth and balance and will only get better as they play together more (barring injuries, of course). I think they can challenge for the No. 5 spot if all goes well.
-- Del (High Point, N.C.)

NBA Intelligence Report

Drug Test Detains Evans
"While Robert Swift was on the KeyArena court to begin the third quarter Tuesday against the New York Knicks, Reggie Evans was being administered a random NBA-mandated drug test, according to teammate Ray Allen. Allen said that an NBA drug testing agent would not allow Evans to return to the court until he finished his test. 'I'm not looking for excuses, trying to point blame, but there is no reason that should have happened, not during an NBA game,' said Allen." -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Griffin's The Human Fly Swatter
"The way Eddie Griffin has been blocking shots lately, some enterprising fans in the upper deck at Target Center might want to start hanging B's over the railing the way Roger Clemens' or Randy Johnson's fans flip K's with every punchout. ... 'Eddie is like our big X factor, who comes off the bench and not only gives us energy but gives us an unbelievable defensive presence,' Kevin Garnett said." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Sixers Get Rebounding Help From Moses
"Moses Malone, a six-time rebounding champion and three-time Most Valuable Player, was at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine yesterday offering a tutorial to the Sixers big men on the lost art of rebounding. You can question whether rebounding is truly a lost art, but there's no question that it has been lost by the Sixers. Malone is in town at the request of Cheeks, now the Sixers coach and in '82-83 the point guard on the title team." -- Philadelphia Daily News

Hill Back But Not Quite Ready
"Grant Hill is ready to launch yet another comeback, which will probably allow him to eclipse the unofficial record held by Cher and any heavyweight boxer. ... Asked when he might play, the ever-playful, coy Hill says, 'I want to play [tonight].' He then shakes head. 'They [team officials] probably won't let me,' he said." -- Orlando Sentinel

Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider Insider

Holding Down Pierce
Juwan Howard and the Rockets contained the Celtics' Paul Pierce, who scored 20 points. Houston won, improving to 5-12 . Tracy McGrady had 35 in the 91-73 win.

Extreme Behavior

Tuesday's Best
Jamal Crawford, Knicks guard Scored 31 points, sank all four of his 3-point attempts in a 104-101 road win at Seattle. Not bad, especially considering his last game was a two-point disappearing act in a loss to Boston.


Tuesday's Worst
Chris Paul, Hornets guard: The biggest clunker of a game for the leading Rookie of the Year candidate. In 31 minutes, had as many turnovers as assists (four) and made 1-8 FGs en route to a two-point night. Hornets lost to the Grizz, 87-72.


Quote of the Night
"We're just out here kind of treading water as a basketball team right now. We're neither hot nor cold, neither fish nor fowl."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, after his team moved to 8-9 with a win over the Bucks.

See how all 178 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Pacers Guard Gets Top Grade

Sarunas Jasikevicius, Indiana Pacers, 3 years, $12 million.
I was skeptical about his ability to give Indy bang for these bucks, but so far Jasikevicius has been absolutely brilliant. In fact, through Sunday's games he had the best 2005-06 PER of any free agent on this list at 21.72 (the league average is 15.0). For more evidence, check out these shooting numbers: 51.7 percent from the floor, 51 percent on 3-pointers, and 94.9 percent from the line. Per minute he's Indy's No. 3 scorer, and he may use Jamaal Tinsley's absence this week to take over the starting point guard job.
Grade: A+

See Hollinger's free agent grades Insider

Elias Says

Boris Diaw led the Suns with 13 assists Tuesday night, his third straight game with at least nine "helpers." He's the only starting forward or center this season to record 9-plus assists in three straight games.

Three non-guard starters did that last season: Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James. The last such streak of four straight games was fashioned by Vlade Divac in February 2004.

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Rookie Watch: Granger Starts

Pacers rookie forward Danny Granger made his first start for Indiana on Tuesday and had career highs with nine points and seven rebounds in the 84-75 loss to the Mavericks at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"He's a terrific young player. He's going to be involved a lot before this season is over," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle told the Indianapolis Star last month. "I don't hesitate putting him in games. I've sat with him and told him he's going to have to be ready for anything."

The 6-9 New Orleans native, who starred at New Mexico, fell to the Pacers at No. 17 in the draft because of concerns over recent knee surgery.

-- A.A.

Youngest Backcourt Ever

When Sebastian Telfair (20 years, 178 days old) and Martell Webster (19 years exactly) started in the backcourt for Portland against Utah on Sunday, they comprised the youngest backcourt in modern NBA history. Compared to the combined age of that Blazers backcourt, Heat guard Gary Payton is only 2 years, 52 days younger.

The previous youngest backcourt had been Cleveland's LeBron James (19 years, 14 days) and Dajuan Wagner (20 years, 343 days) when the Cavaliers played Seattle on Jan. 13, 2004.

Portland has a league-leading five players who jumped from high school to the pros: Telfair, Webster, Darius Miles, Ha Seung Jin and Travis Outlaw.

-- The Associated Press, ESPN



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